It is my great honor and pleasure to submit testimony in support of the FY2003 appropriations request for the Center for Russian Leadership Development submitted to the members of this subcommittee by the Librarian of Congress, Dr. James H. Billington, who testified in support of the Center's request on March 13, 2002. The Center is now a distinct entity in the Legislative Branch, housed at the Library of Congress, and charged with managing the largest exchange program the United States maintains with Russia the Open World Program.
I am pleased to serve on the Board of Trustees for the Center, with Jim Billington (Chairman), Senator Ted Stevens my good friend, who serves as Honorary Chairman, Senators Carl Levin and Bill Frist; Representatives Amo Houghton and Bud Cramer; former Ambassador Jim Collins, and philanthropist and financier George Soros.
My involvement with the Center is almost as long as that of Senator Stevens and Jim Billington. When Jim Billington first proposed the idea of a large- scale effort (modeled on the Marshall Plan's success after World War II in rebuilding Germany by allowing young German political leaders to visit the United States to observe democracy in action) Senator Ted Stevens moved quickly to give this bold idea a chance to demonstrate its worth.
The FY1999 supplemental appropriations request for Kosovo contained $10.0M to give the Library of Congress the opportunity to launch a pilot effort to bring up to 3,000 young Russian leaders with no English language skills to the United States for short-term stays in American homes and communities. Senator Stevens, whom I am honored to have as my friend, was familiar with my lifelong interest in and passion for Russian culture and forging ties between Russia and the United States. I have continued to work to bring major exhibitions to both the United States and Russia through the Russian-American Cultural Foundation, which I chair. Senator Stevens asked me to serve as Executive Director for the program launched as the Russian Leadership Program but known throughout Russia as "Open World." Jim Billington arranged to have experienced staff at the Library loaned to the program for six months. I worked day-to-day with Gerry Otremba, whom the Board has asked to serve as Executive Director for the Center, and Aletta Waterhouse from the Congressional Research Service, who had worked on the Frost Task Force some years earlier. We had our work cut out for us.
We found ourselves with scarcely seven months to create the first grant-making program in the Legislative Branch; find partners who would help us ensure home stays in American communities for our guests; put arrangements in place in Russia to nominate, screen, and obtain visas for participants; develop appropriate local programs; arrange international and domestic travel; and find and train escort-interpreters to accompany the delegations during their typically 10-day visits in the United States.
The Open World Program was a resounding success: in just seven months, the program brought 2,045 young Russian leaders to 48 states and the District of Columbia. We at the Library did not produce this miracle alone. Our key partner was the American Councils for International Education, led by Dan Davidson, which handled all of our Russian and U.S. logistics, including travel. Our major hosts were the Russia Initiative of the United Methodist Church, Rotary International, and the Friendship Force.
Jim Billington, in his testimony before this subcommittee, presented powerful and persuasive thoughts on why our relations with Russia three years later are even more dependent on large-scale exchanges such as the Open World Program. Jim is a world-renowned scholar of Russian history and culture and has advised many Members of Congress and, indeed, U.S. presidents on Russia's political history and culture. Jim's original idea was simple and direct and it remains vital three years later. Let me add a very personal perspective on the impact the program can have both for its Russian participants and its American hosts.
The very first summer, Open World brought as many as 400 young Russians per month to the United States. We wanted, quite naturally, to see and evaluate their experience firsthand, rather than rely solely on second hand reports. So we visited delegations during their stay in America to meet them, meet their U.S. local hosts, and determine firsthand the impact of the program. Let me hasten to add that our informal on-the-ground evaluation was supplemented at the conclusion of the program with a systematic evaluation and debriefing of all the returning Russian participants.
I mentioned that the Methodist Church's Russia Initiative was one of our host partners. I traveled to Lee's Summit, Missouri my home state in July 1999 to meet the delegation being hosted by Steve Whitehurst, Patty Sents, Bob Farr, and others of Grace Methodist Church in Lee's Summit. The program was a typical mix of activities designed to show America its people, values, culture, and volunteer spirit to young Russians who had come of age in the Soviet era and live today in Russia surrounded by images of the United States drawn almost exclusively from American popular culture: films, television, music, and advertising. I can assure members of the subcommittee that Lee's Summit, Missouri, is a far cry from reruns of Dallas.
The delegation's two newspaper editors, one journalist, and one professor had a 10-day visit that featured meetings with Kansas City mayor Kay Waldo-Barnes and U.S. Representative Ike Skelton, a meeting of the town council, and visits to the Truman Library, television and radio stations, a hospital, a school, and Jefferson City, the state capital. A highlight of their visit was being hosted by the man who was both the Methodist minister and the volunteer fire chief for the town.
The wide variety of civic endeavors that Americans take in stride provides an astonishing spectacle to the foreign visitor. Lee's Summit, a vibrant community close to Kansas City, presented this delegation with a slice of all-American life they will not likely forget. Bob Farr, their robust host, after taking them on a wave-splashing motorboat tour of Lake Lotawana, where they also fished and swam, welcomed them into a comfortable, rambling home that could have been the subject of a Norman Rockwell illustration, complete with two teenagers doing their homework on the living room floor, a sleeping pup, and a mountainous dinner for 18 beckoning in the next room.
Dinner had been prepared by Mrs. Farr's mother, since Mrs. Farr had just completed her first day as a seventh-grade teacher in the local high school. Mr. Farr, having preached the previous day as Minister of the Methodist Church, had doffed his robes, and donned his gold-braided uniform as the community's fire chief. He then escorted the somewhat bewildered Open World delegation to the firehouse, where they witnessed a dazzling demonstration of planned pyrotechnics. An old car was set aflame, setting the stage for the arrival of a gleaming, fully equipped yellow fire truck that disgorged about two dozen masked firefighters. The hose was rolled out, the flames were doused, and a dummy "victim" was pulled to safety. This done, the brigade removed their masks to reveal the jovial faces of young men and women in their twenties.
One Russian tentatively inquired "How much make?", "Nothing, we're all volunteers." "Well, how you life?" They described their several "day" jobs and obligations. Volunteerism was an integral part of the life and times of Lee's Summit. Earlier, the Russians had been introduced first to the Police Chief, a retired Kansas City cop who enjoyed the quieter life of a city jail with one empty cell to keep him company, then the Mayor, a charming lady who proudly introduced her two employees, including the Treasurer, another lady, slowly counting out greenbacks. "She collects the money," said the Mayoress. "I spend it." The Russians smiled at this division of labor.
Back at the fire station, the Russians were so delighted with their new and multitalented young friends that they suggested a beer in the local tavern. The invitation was enthusiastically accepted. The party, unimpeded by normal language barriers, went on into the small hours. At the next day's farewell the lead spokesman for the visitors told their host, The Reverend Fire Captain Farr, that his imaginative hospitality topped an already burgeoning list of happy and instructive experiences.
- Open World provides precisely the elements we have been told repeatedly that first-time visitors find immensely valuable:
- Open World makes possible direct observation of our political process usually at the town or county level, where the level of citizen involvement and relations with the business and volunteer sectors are very apparent;
- Open World introduces American culture, values, and customs through attendance at community events baseball games, Fourth of July parades and picnics, barbecues in American backyards with friends and neighbors, and the like;
- Open World builds mutual understanding: our delegations meet with the local newspaper editor, are interviewed on the local television station, and meet leaders and citizens of communities large and small who are involved with the PTA, the local Rotary club, the Methodist Church, and other civic, religious, and voluntary organizations like the Lee's Summit Fire Brigade.
At the hearing on March 13, Senator Stevens particularly praised the Open World Program for its success in involving nongovernmental organizations in hosting our Russian guests.
A week earlier, the Board of Trustees voted overwhelmingly for a 2002 program and budget that will allow Open World to invite 2,500 participants the largest number since the program's first pilot year in 1999. We on the board made that decision with the full understanding that the program's carry-over funds would be needed to supplement the $8.0M Congress appropriated for FY2002. The Center's full $10.0M request for FY2003 will allow the program to plan and execute a program of equal scope next year. I urge the Chairman and members of the Subcommittee to support the full request.
As a former member of the House of Representatives, I know full well the difficult funding decisions that you as members of the Appropriations Committee must make. The Open World Program is a modest investment in supporting Russia's dramatic transformation from Communism to democratic and market principles in the space of 10 brief years. The investment from the Federal government of approximately $6,000 per participant is matched by hundreds of hours of volunteer time provided by mayors, ministers, and state and federal judges. Home stays replace expensive and isolating hotel stays. American hosts provide entertainment and cultural activities greatly valued by first-time visitors. The home stays also provide a unique view of everyday American life from the inside, instead of a view from the outside in. The Russian participants want to interact with the Americans they meet and be able to ask questions freely and exchange views. They want to see the infrastructure of everything, know its practical application and experience it from top to bottom.
In conclusion, it has been my pleasure to serve as the Open World Program's first Executive Director and, now three years later, as a member of its Board of Trustees. I pay tribute to the two visionaries Ted Stevens and Jim Billington who made Open World a reality. I strongly encourage members of the subcommittee to meet delegations when they travel to your home states as they surely will this year and see for yourselves the profound impact the Open World Program has on both its Russian and American partners.